gross webcam behavior, leaning on coworkers for emotional support, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Gross webcam behavior

My team is having daily video catch-ups, but one colleague (senior to me but not my boss) constantly picks at his face throughout the meeting. On one unfortunately memorable occasion, not realizing the rest of the team were already on the call, he even picked his nose and ate it, as we stared in silent horror. He’s visually impaired (but not blind), so will often lean very close to his monitor, bringing his forehead-scab-picking actions right up close to the camera; this is also probably why he doesn’t realize we can see him doing all this.

Is there … anything at all we can do about this, short of asking everyone to turn their cameras off?

Oh noooo. Any chance you have the kind of team culture where someone could just say, “Bob, WHAT are you doing?” or “Whoa, Bob, whatever you’re doing looks really strange on camera?” Or, “Bob, that’s very distracting! We just see your hands doing something to your face.” I kind of like the last two, because they provide plausible deniability to Bob that it just looks he’s doing something gross, not that he really is.

It’s possible that saying something like this once or twice will be all it takes for Bob to come to terms with the fact that video means he can in fact be seen.

2. Can I reach out to my colleagues for emotional support?

In the midst of coronavirus, my very long-term partner just left me. It’s been devastating. I have almost no support for the break-up that’s not connected to my partner: Apart from one or two friends on opposite coasts, the only people in my life disconnected from my partner are my colleagues. I’ve told my boss about the situation, since I’ve been MIA. But my question is: Can I/should I reach out to my colleagues for emotional support more generally?

Oh, I’m so sorry. What a time to get that blow on top of everything else.

I hate to say it because it sounds callous, but I don’t think you should lean on colleagues for emotional support, especially if you don’t already have that kind of relationship with them. If there’s a particular colleague who you have a close relationship with and who seems receptive to more of a friendship, you might be able to talk with that person about what’s going on. But you’ve got to proceed with caution: because you work together, people won’t always feel comfortable setting the boundaries they want and someone suddenly leaning on them for this kind of support can make things awkward for them. So you’ve got to really pay attention to that person’s cues.

On the other hand, it’s also true that strong friendships have been formed by one person making themselves vulnerable at a difficult time and another person responding to that, and sometimes that happens at work. So I’m not saying you have to be a robot, but I wouldn’t turn to work first. Lean on those friends across the country (we’re all conducting our friendships long-distance right now anyway), and you will get through this. I’m sorry you have to!

3. Employee is monitoring other people’s work

We are a semi-remote team who uses Trello to keep our workflow organized and distribute assignments. One of my employees, Jane, feels it is necessary to look at everyone’s work on Trello and comment on it. She also uses it as a tool to fuel her immense paranoia (“Why is [Boss] watching my card and not [Coworker’s]?!?!?!” when Boss doesn’t even look at the Trello — Jane mis-clicked and added his label to her card herself!)

It’s none of her business, and definitely not her job. Every time I have said something to the effect of “Jane, there’s no reason for you to be looking at other peoples’ work, focus on your own assignments and if there an issue I need to handle on Trello, rest assured that I am paying attention,” this has been met either with self-pity, pouting, remonstrations about how she’s just trying to help (with what?), or some combo of all three. Do you have any advice? I cannot set permissions to keep her from viewing other peoples’ cards.

It sounds like you’ve told her she doesn’t need to look at other people’s work, but you haven’t directly instructed her to stop. That might feel like a small difference, but it can matter greatly in what message you communicate as a manager and how seriously it’s taken. So I’d talk to her again and say this: “I’ve told you in the past you don’t need to look at other people’s Trello cards, but you’ve continued to look and complain about what you see. So now I’m telling you that I need you to stop looking at them, period. It’s not your job to do this and it’s becoming disruptive to our team. Going forward, I don’t want to hear that you’ve been looking at anyone’s else’s work. Is there any reason you won’t be able to comply with that?”

Also, are there other problems with Jane? I’d take this as a flag to keep a closer eye on her because this kind of behavior is often (not always, but often) accompanied by other issues.

4. Job offer might mean a move at an uncertain time

I’ve been casually job searching for a few months. Recently, I’ve had two phone interviews with an employer that’s 2,000 miles away from my current location on the East Coast. The second interview was supposed to be in person, but because of everything going on, it was switched to the phone. I’ve visited the city where this new job would be a few times, but not in about 15 years. My husband has never been to this area of the country. The money looks like it would be about the same, but the cost of living is a little lower, other than a roaring housing market. My husband isn’t super invested in his current job and should be able to pick up something comparable in the new city, provided the economy doesn’t 100% collapse. I’m an academic administrator in a position that doesn’t really play to my strengths and in an office where I’ve never fit in well.

My impression is that this is a great job that I’m well suited for. The people seem great — on the phone. They’ve been in touch with my references. I assume there’s a job offer coming in the next few days, possibly. How long can I take to make this decision in the current climate? Is it okay to ask for six weeks to see how everything shakes out? Could I ask to start remotely before upending my life, and how long would it be fair to do that? We currently live pretty close to my elderly parents, and my dad has COPD, so there is real potential for lives being upended by this virus. I hate to cut this opportunity off at the knees, but I feel like saying yes without knowing what’s happening in the world more generally is ill advised. I’d be giving at least two — but probably four — weeks notice, but considering how the world and my job and my family is changing every 24 hours, even that feels a little nuts. It seems unlikely that I’d be able to get out there in that time, and what happens if I finally get there and we hate it?

Do you have any thoughts on how to navigate this? Generally, your site has made me feel so much more confident about discussing offers and negotiating but I feel like I’m playing a game that has suspended the normal rules.

Oof. Yeah, this is a tricky time to pick up and move for a new job, especially in a city you’re not sure about. If we knew for sure that this would mostly be over in six weeks, it would be very reasonable to ask for some time. But it’s looking so likely that that won’t be the case, and I’m concerned you won’t be in a much better spot six weeks from now, and they may worry about that too. Asking to start remotely is an interesting idea, but assuming they’d want you to relocate at some point, that might just be kicking the can down the road and they might not want to risk that you’ll change your mind.

So this is really tough. If you get the offer, I would talk to them about what you’re thinking about. That might not get you solid answers, but I think having that conversation will give you more insight than you have now.

5. How much notice should I give when I don’t know if I’ll be asked to leave immediately or not?

I’m currently in talks with a company and there is a non-zero chance that I could have an offer late this week, early next week. But my company is starting a layoff next week due to the coronavirus, and in order to put my two weeks in, I would need to give notice probably sometime middle of next week. Complicating matters is the fact that my company does not have any discernible procedure for how they handle resignations; some people are allowed to work out their notice and some (most) are walked out the same day. It seems to largely depend on office politics, which is part of the reason I’m leaving. If I’m not allowed to work out my last two weeks, I won’t get paid, and I can’t afford that, especially with everything that’s going on right now. But on the off chance they DO allow me to work out my notice, that will impact what start date I can give my new company.

Do I take a gamble and assume they’re going to walk me out, or assume they won’t and hope my new company will take me on early? Is this something I can talk to my new company about when negotiating a start date with them?

You can talk to the new company about it! You could say, “My company nearly always has people leave immediately when they give notice. Not 100% of the time, but more often than not. Is it possible to set a start date for two weeks out but move it up if they do have me wrap up sooner than that?” (Keep in mind, though, that some companies won’t be ready for you to start right away because they need time to prepare for you, so you might want to adjust these timelines accordingly.)

Another option, which has some risk to it, is to give less than two weeks notice to your current employer and explain that you thought their practice is to have people leave immediately. I don’t generally recommend leaving with less than two weeks notice if you can avoid it, but companies that walk people out immediately (and don’t pay them for the notice period) really give up the right to any notice. That said, this can affect your reference, so you would want to know how the person most likely to give that reference would feel about it.

{ 269 comments… read them below }

  1. Admin4Life*

    LW5 – I had a similar situation when I moved to my current job. I explained to my new employer that the company I was working for could walk me out on the spot but I wouldn’t know until I told them. They were incredibly accommodating with my start date. My new employer had in-depth background checks and told me to wait to put in my notice until after they cleared that way I could start the following Monday or two weeks later if I was allowed to work my notice period. They were also of the mindset that the position had been empty for five months so four or five more weeks wouldn’t hurt.

    I had interviews with multiple companies (academia, medicine, law enforcement, dept of defense, accounting, and IT) and each time they asked about my timeline for starting in the position I would explain my situation with giving notice at my employer at the time and all of them were willing to accommodate me by being flexible with my start date. So I’m with Alison that there’s no harm in mentioning it to them during the hiring process and again when you get a job offer.

    1. PNW Dweller*

      Companies inconsistent with how they treat people giving notice lose the benefit of having their employee give notice. I would talk to new company, find out what their needs are (which may have changed due to COVID19) and then on the last day, give notice to old job. I would only offer that advice to people working at a company who shows a history of disregarding notice customs. You reap what you sow.

      1. Julia*

        Yeah, that actually seems like the best option because it doesn’t involve the new employer.

      2. OP5*

        I don’t disagree, and I have references from this company that I’ll be using going forward that would probably cheer me on for giving one day’s notice, but the only thing that concerns me is that if a future employer ever called and wanted to verify my employment dates, HR would probably tell them that I’m not eligible for rehire, which could throw up a red flag, even if I could explain it.

        (But my wife is super on board with the whole “burn it down and salt the earth” route!)

    2. Sled dog mana*

      I’ve encountered the same thing very often where the interviewing/hiring company asks what my time line would be for starting. I always assumed it had to do with the fact that in my industry 6 weeks notice and a substantial move is often involved in changing positions but now that I think about it it’s very possible that there are employers who would walk someone out and that’s a polite way of inquiring how the person’s current employer needs to be handled.

    3. CupcakeCounter*

      Absolutely mention this but be cautious about how you walk about your current employers “policy”. Don’t make it sound haphazard or based on politics, put an air of “I plan to give my current employer 2 weeks notice, but I’ve noticed that sometime my company walks people out the day their give their notice and sometimes they will work out their 2 weeks. I’m not sure where my role fits in with their policies as no one in my role has left during my time there so would it be possible to work out 2 possible start dates so I can plan financially?”

      1. OP5*

        I think my plan right now is to say “I can start on [date after two weeks], but because of all of the coronavirus activity going on, there’s a possibility of being able to move that up depending on my company.”
        That way, it gives everyone plausible deniability, but if they read between the lines they could probably gather that there’s more going on than I’m telling them.

    4. OP5*

      Thanks for your thoughtful response!
      My new company said they would very much like me to start in the next few weeks, and I think I could make that happen, even if my current job does want me to work out my notice period. I have fairly good relationships with most of the higher ups here, and I could make a case for needing to transfer procedures, so I think there actually is a good chance they wouldn’t ask me to leave early–but I’m a planner by nature so I’d like to have some contingency in place.
      Plus, right now I can blame any shift in start date with my new company on the coronavirus… possibly the only good part about this pandemic.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I don’t know why you need to blame the shift on anyone.

        It’s not uncommon for companies to decide to cut people loose before the severance period ends. It has nothing to do with your untrustworthiness, etc.

  2. Ivory Tower*

    #1. Oh noooooooooooooo

    If you feel too awkward to call it out at the moment in front of everyone else, you may also be able to send him a message privately before the next meeting? Just one kindly explaining that everyone can see what he’s doing during meetings? Of course, that depends on whether the program you’re using allows direct messages and what relation you have to him/what kind of person he is.

    I’m just thinking if I was him, I’d personally be absolutely *horrified* to know everyone was seeing me doing something gross without me knowing, so it’d be nice to have a while to get over my mortification alone before having to focus on a meeting, and for him to find a strategy to keep his hands out of view if the face picking is difficult to stop as can sometimes be the case.

    1. Veronica Mars*

      I mean, I know us normal folk would be horrified. But like, how can he NOT know? Ya know?

      1. Uranus Wars*

        I can say as a fidget monster that not touching/picking, etc. is sometimes an act of major restrain. I don’t pick my nose and eat it, but I do itch, play with my hair, etc. And some people don’t realize others can’t see them even when they aren’t talking. It’s almost like you forget you are on camera – kinda like that LW who wore dinosaur pajamas on a video call with her boss (or something like that).

        1. kittymommy*

          As a fellow fidget monster I can second this. Heck, most of the time I don’t even realize I’m doing it! I’m really bad with the twirling/playing with hair and 99 times out of 100 I am not doing it consciously.

        2. TootsNYC*

          I had to stop myself from twirling my hair during our first departmental Zoom meeting. It was sort of hard.
          I don’t know how most people had their screens set; I only saw the person who was actually talking.

          I think our OP should contact this guy’s manager and ask him to quietly say something. It’s really very akin to “your body odor has gotten strong” or “your musk perfume is bothering someone.”

          1. Tidewater 4-1009*

            The group I volunteer with has been having Zoom meetings and I see the people (including myself) in a little row across the top.
            It must be the default or group setting because I did nothing.

      2. BadWolf*

        I don’t know, I had an ex who would pick at his scalp a lot. Like, pick at it, examine anything he picked off, fling away any bits he picked off. Whenever I tried to get him to stop, he’d get super annoyed/angry about it. Not that I think OPs boss is going to get angry, but people are weird.

      3. Ktelzbeth*

        My vision is quite bad without my glasses and I wear contacts maybe 3-4 times per year for major races (too hard to keep track of glasses during a triathlon). If I happen to jump in the shower before taking my contacts out, I am always amazed and shocked by how much I see. I’m someone who does see clearly with glasses, but I still don’t have a good sense of the parts of the world I generally see without them, so I can see it as a possibility that Bob with his visual impairment really doesn’t realize how visible his actions are.

      4. JKP*

        Yeah, my experience has been that people who do gross stuff like that don’t understand why other people would be horrified by it. I was once on a first date at a restaurant with someone who ate with their mouth open and vigorously picked their nose (thankfully didn’t eat it). I tried to gently point it out in a way that would let him save face, and his response was a very blase “Yeah, people hassle me about that all the time.” And then he was shocked and couldn’t understand WHY I didn’t want a second date.

    2. Katrinka*

      Since not touching your face is one of the preventative measures for the corona virus, that could be a gentle/jokey way to bring it up. “Oh, I have such a hard time not touching my face! I don’t even know I’m doing it until I see it on Zoom!”

  3. Seal*

    #1 – Maybe it’s because of the stress of these increasingly surreal times or maybe it’s because I’ve attended far too many virtual meeting myself, but this letter gave me the best laugh I’ve had in weeks. I’m sure I’d be as disgusted and appalled as the OP is if something similar happened in one of my meetings, but it reads like an SNL sketch. This very scenario is why we don’t use video for most of my online meetings.

    1. OP#1*

      For the full horror/comedy of the nose-picking, you have to imagine us all going “yoohoo, Bob, can you hear us? Bob, you’re on mute, are your speakers on? Bob!” and then SILENCE. D: At first I honestly thought he was being fake-gross as a joke, like he knew we were watching but was just pretending, until it became very clear THAT no, he really wasn’t.

      1. Mookie*

        Wow, that’s way more disruptive than Bob contributing to the discussion normally while also incidentally mining his nose for snacks. Bob seemingly zoning out or having technical AV difficulties actually necessitates a direct conversation, like Ivory Tower suggests above, which makes it easier to also address the grosser issues, and preferably it’d be his boss who does it and sooner rather than later. I’d have a difficult time being really specific there, so I’d probably recommend he pull his camera back and that too many hand gestures in front of the camera near his face have become distracting, and basically remind him that people are always looking, even as the group awaits all joiners to call in, and what they’re looking at should be benign and work-friendly at all times.

      2. Kettricken Farseer*

        When we all went to working from home and using cameras, I told my team, “Don’t do anything on camera that you wouldn’t do in a conference room” so so far I’ve not seen anything as horrible as this.

    2. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

      Me too, it’s hilarious! I don’t think I’d have been able to hold in the giggles.

      I once attended a presentation with staff from satellite offices dialling in. Normally you could see whoever didn’t turn off their video as a small thumbnail off to the side of the main presentation screen. But this particular day, (in the absence of the usual AV guy), one individual woman sitting right up close to her screen was stuck on as the main feature. She fell asleep. Like, head rolling down to chest and snapping back awake again several times during the CEO’s presentation. Her dozing off was broadcast, the size of a billboard, to the entire auditorium. It was glorious.

        1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

          Right? It’s like the coronavirus wfh equivalent of the office kitchen:

          The inconvenience. The grossness. The politics.
          Who will be caught peeing where they ought not?

            1. ampersand*

              Hahaha! Given some of the things we read here, you should feel not at all bad about this. It actually sounds really funny: crunch crunch crunch

            2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              I suddenly feel slightly better about my dog harfing up grass right behind me on my last call. No video, luckily, but you can’t mistake that sound, nor my, “Oh no, not on the carpet! Get on the tile!” shreik.

              1. AKchic*

                My dog once took the opportunity to give her “bear in heat” sounds to demand butt skritches during a board meeting I was participating in via video chat. Which scared the cat in my lap, who ran across the laptop (flashing everyone her puckered starfish) while I yelled at my dog “if you want your ass scratched, you actually need to give me the ass, not sit on it!”

                I forgot I wasn’t muted. Luckily, Alaskans are very forgiving of dogs.

                1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

                  I’d be so forgiving of that. Once I stopped laughing. I have 3 cats and 2 dogs. I guarantee shenanigans on at least some meetings during this

                2. SebbyGrrl*

                  From this moment on known as the Great String of Nose Food Snacks of the 2020 Pandemic Laugh Heard Round The World!

                  Best laugh in 2 weeks, thank you!

            3. JustaTech*

              I once had an all-company meeting disrupted by someone who called in and then typed Very Loudly into their phone. The CEO was trying to talk around the typing noises, and kept asking people to mute their phones, but clearly the typer (and it was called out as typing) either wasn’t listening to the call or was totally oblivious to the fact that they were the disruptive one.

              Finally the CEO had his admin mute everyone, but he was *pissed*.

          1. RVA Cat*

            No I don’t feel as bad about the non-zero chance of my cats showing all my co-workers their buttholes…

              1. RVA Cat*

                Lol! Plus it would most likely be my cow cat who has shall we say a high-contrast “feature”….

              2. SebbyGrrl*


                There’s also a whole Office Cats series, equally as funny and I am a dog person ;)

        2. jamberoo*

          Can we start with one where I logged in from the couch and immediately got a Slack message: “Nice robe. A little open, though, FYI!!!”

          THANK YOU KIND COWORKER. My face: D8

        3. StrangerThanFiction*

          I saw this a couple of years back when a Russian team we worked with was presenting some work they’d done via a video conference. The young woman who was presenting it came up to the computer with the webcam on in order to share the screen, but just as she sat down she winced a bit, slipped a hand inside her top and radically readjusted a breast, accompanied by a silent but obvious sigh of relief. As far as her own office was concerned, they wouldn’t have been aware of anything because she had her back to them, but she was oblivious both to the camera and the 17 middle-aged men 6000 miles away pretending to each other that they hadn’t been watching at the time.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah I can see how it would be weird to experience, but from the headline I was thinking like… sexual harassment type of “gross” behavior. So reading the actual behavior was a relief!

  4. Serena*

    #1 It might be really awkward to say something in front of everyone. Instead, maybe message him directly if it happens, saying something like “Hi, Bob letting you know your camera is on, seems like you might not have realised.”

    1. Mystery Bookworm*

      I think this is a better solution. Saying something out loud in front of everyone will really only work if OP can hit exactly the right tone, which can be tricky sometimes.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      I agree. I wouldn’t call this out in front of other people. Message the guy directly rather than embarrassing him in front of everyone.

    3. MtnLaurel*

      Also, so you really NEED the video? It eats up bandwidth and leads to behaviors like that. I’ve worked on a fully remote team for 5 years and in my experience video adds little value once you get beyond the “yes, this is a real live person” beginning part.

      1. Oranges*

        For me, WFH worsens my depression. Seeing faces def helps with it though. I feel like I’m talking and connecting more when I can see the person. My team has been awesome about using their cams. I’m lucky.

        1. probably actually a hobbit*

          as a hearing impaired person, video REALLY HELPS me make sure I’ve understood what others are saying

        2. Filosofickle*

          I’m an old pro at hermit WFH life, but video is critical for me to be engaged. When I see faces, I listen better, hear better, and feel more connected. Disembodied voices and talking to the void sap my energy.

        3. TootsNYC*

          I was surprised how good it felt to see faces of people I know, when we did our department’s first Zoom meeting yesterday. I mean, it’s only been a little more than a week that we’ve been all-remote, and I don’t live alone, so I didn’t expect it to matter as much as it did.

          Maybe in April it won’t feel like such a big deal.

    4. Dr. Rebecca*

      Honestly feel like that might be too vague. We do a lot of those touch-the-face things subconsciously, and the LW might need to be more direct.

    5. memyselfandi*

      I suggest sending out a “tip” sheet on videoconferencing best practice that includes a number of things like lighting, etc. If you can’t find one that includes tips on nose-picking behaviour, then add them.

  5. kathlynn (Canada)*

    LW 2, do any of your coworkers have experience with separation or divorce? If so, while you might not be able to lean on them for emotional support, you might be able to get references from them (divorce lawyer, tax accountant, idk.)

    1. Suzy Q*

      LW2: I’m sorry for what you’re going through but PLEASE do not involve your coworkers in your personal dramas. They have their own going on – everyone does – and I assure you, they are not interested in yours.

      1. Rosemary*

        This feels really unnecessarily harsh. Of course you don’t know for sure that they can help, bandwidth-wise, but if one of my coworkers, even one I’m not close too, were having a really rough time suddenly, I’d want to help as I could. And having a sudden painful breakup is not just “personal drama”.

        1. Em*

          I went through my first serious break up while also in the early stages of my career and a few months into my first serious job. I want to say that the pain of break ups are universal. Most humans have been through it. When I went through mine, it was obvious at work. And I did tell people, because I was different than normal, which in turn caused them to be supportive.

          I think that if you have one coworker who is particularly friendly with you, you can tell them. I would say something like “please let me know if I’m crossing any boundaries here, but I just went through a long term break up, and I wanted to let you know because my behavior may be different than normal. Is there anyway you could do [x small supportive thing]?”

          I would also recommend podcasts–why oh why is so good for break ups, but also add in some humorous ones.

          You’re not alone, lw2. A lot of people are doing online organizing and social meetings these days. Maybe seek some out when you feel up to it.

  6. Vox de Causa*

    LW3, this sounds so familiar; I once managed a “Jane.” Alison’s advice is spot-on. Be direct about Jane needing to stop that behavior, and then watch for her to keep doing it or tracking her teammates in other ways (for instance, keeping a log of when each team member leaves and returns to their desk). Good luck and I hope Jane can rein herself in!

    1. #3 OP*

      Thanks for the advice!

      One good thing is that she’s on a different continent than anyone else, so she’s limited in how much she can interfere. Still annoying, though!

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I wonder if that’s part of what’s driving her behavior at all? She feels so separated from everyone else that she starts inserting herself everywhere to feel more involved?

        Ultimately it doesn’t matter why she’s doing it in how you handle in, but I wonder if she ever shows signs of feeling too separated from everyone and if so whether there are ways to make everyone feel more together.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          After reading more about her behavior further down, nevermind on my previous questions!

        2. staceyizme*

          The whole pouty “poor me” routine would incline most managers to double down on the idea that she needs to stay on her own lane. They might even assign her some tedious items with short due dates that would encourage her to focus elsewhere, since “she wants to help”.

      2. Kes*

        I wonder if that plays into this – she feels less involved and more insecure as a result, and the only info she has on what’s going on is the board so it takes on a greater importance for her.
        On the other hand, her reaction doesn’t sound great so she may just be a poor performer and insecure about it. Either way you need to be firm about her needing to stop it.

    2. MassMatt*

      I had an employee like this also, and ironically he was the poorest performer on my team–turned in very sloppy work that needed lots of correction, and followed directions poorly. Yet he was constantly trying to act like a supervisor over others who had more seniority, skill, and knowledge than he did.

      With my “Jane” hints would not work, I had to go very quickly from “why are you doing this?” to “You must stop doing this” to verbal and written warnings. Ultimately, he wound up leaving and everyone on the team breathed a sigh of relief.

      I figured his problem came from insecurity, and maybe that’s the problem with “Jane” also. Your mentioning her paranoia seems key, perhaps she is feeling isolated or otherwise disconnected from the rest of the group and is trying (and failing) to show her value?

      Ironically this just isolates her more, your team hates behavior like Jane’s and the longer their behavior continues the worse effect it will have on employee morale.

    3. Alice's Rabbit*

      Don’t hint, don’t beat around the bush, don’t even try to soften the message.
      OP: “Jane, I need you to stop tracking other people’s work. You are not management, so it’s inappropriate for you to be trying to oversee your coworkers tasks. Just concentrate on your own work from now on. This is your final warning on the subject.”
      Jane: “But I was just trying to help!”
      Op: “It’s not helpful. And it stops now.”
      Jane: (pouts and whines and tries to get pity)
      OP: (ignoring everything like it’s completely inconsequential, because it is) Regardless, you are not to track your coworkers on Trello. Now please get back to work, and concentrate on your own tasks.”
      Don’t give her any sympathy, because she’s obviously seeing that as a sign that you’re not really serious. This is busines, and you’re her manager, not her friend. So just be firm and professional.

  7. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

    #3: Definitely be more direct with Jane, like Alison said. And don’t fall for it if she tries to pull the “just trying to help” excuse. Nosy busy bodies often pull the “just trying to help” bit and act all insulted when they know full well they’re being called out on the fact that they need to stay in their own lane. Jane sounds like Self-Appointed Hall Monitor at my ex-job. Nobody likes people like that. Best of luck to you dealing with Jane.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      “Just trying to help..,”

      “That’s not your job. Stop doing it. Eyes on your own paper!”

      1. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

        Another variation on “just trying to help” is “oh, but I care about our (work/team/company) soooooo much!” or “well, I’m concerned…”

        I think your response to the above applies to these as well.

        1. RUKiddingMe*


          Getting old, for me has come with the benefit of bring more direct and less willing to do unnecessary hand holding.

          Not your job. Stop doing that. Full stop. :;Walk away::

        2. Alice's Rabbit*

          Great way to shut that down: “If you have any concerns, you let me know, and I willkeepmy eye on it. But monitoring employee performance is a job for management, so you need to stop that immediately and concentrate on your own work.”

          1. Wintermute*

            I wouldn’t even give her that “in”– you tell her “if you have concerns…” she hears “you can still look if you are concerned”

            I would tell her, directly, that she is not management, I am management, it is not her job to be concerned with other people’s work it’s her job to do her own work and if she does not focus on her own work and not other people’s work I will find someone else to do her work instead.

            1. Jennifer Thneed*

              Especially right now! when there are tons of people who will be looking for work soon.

    2. Betty*

      I do think a great answer to “just trying to help” actually is “With what?” if you have the seniority. Because there is no answer to that which involves Jane actually doing something which is supposed to be her job as opposed to randomly allocating herself new responsibilities.

      1. #3 OP*

        I did this once and she gave me the silent treatment for a straight week. (I didn’t mind as much as I should have; I was a teacher before this job, so I can deal with ongoing tantrums pretty bloodlessly.)

        1. Not So NewReader*

          So the silent treatment is not appropriate behavior either.
          This sounds like there may be several problems running concurrently.
          She may deny it but she is trying to undermine your authority.

          She’s missed a few facts about how jobs play out in real life. Our willingness to get along with others is part of any job. It’s a basic requirement. Next step, to maintain almost any position we need to be available to talk with almost anyone who needs to discuss work matters. This too is a basic requirement. She is not willing to work with others, specifically she is not willing to accept instruction from her boss. Additionally, she thinks that the silent treatment is appropriate in the workplace. This thinking is so flawed. Putting it all together she has failed to do basic components of the job and potentially could be dismissed for that failure.

          Yeah, I draw a hard line at silent treatment. If people cut themselves off from others there is not much you can do there. This is a person who does not want help with retaining their job or help with being a viable contributing employee. When I see these types of behaviors, I know the person is on their way out the door. It could be that they quit or it could be that they end up fired. A person who plans on staying long term cannot not do these things and survive at work.

          1. Op #3*

            You hit the nail on the head.

            My bosses are aware of her behavior; she decided to very publicly undermine me [in the group chat my supervisors are part of], and I immediately responded by saying, “Jane, that’s not an appropriate way to give feedback in the workplace. Can you find a more constructive way to express your concerns?” Five deleted voice messages in response. The one that came through was straight crying. I tried to follow up and was ignored.

            From the very beginning, she’s been submitting my name as a reference while applying to OTHER JOBS so I don’t think she actually plans on staying, despite saying to my face that she loves the project and hopes she can continue on in an administrative position. Until recently, I just didn’t respond to the requests; now I respond with “I’m sorry, but I cannot grant this person a reference, as I am their current manager and did not grant my permission.” They can draw their own conclusions from there.

            I think I wrote this somewhere else, but we will let her finish out the contract and then wish her all the best.

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                And leaving a voicemail that consists entirely of crying! That’s some of the most ridiculous and transparent manipulation I’ve ever heard of on this site, and that’s saying something.

                1. staceyizme*

                  Her behavior indicates that she needs real help! It’s not your job to see that she gets it, but in addition to “you must stop that” and “come to me before you offer comments since that’s an ongoing issue”, could you have HR refer her to available resources? She needs support that includes clinical level professional skills.

            1. Kes*

              I mean, it’s probably for the best that she doesn’t plan on staying, but do you plan on her staying? She sounds like a terrible employee in a number of ways and just because you can put up with it doesn’t mean you should. Is she on a PIP? If so, why not? Have you considered firing her?

            2. nonegiven*

              A lot of times, you are forced to name your current manager even if you don’t include them in a list of references. Then the hiring manager calls the current manager, instead of or in addition to the references.

              1. Observer*

                That doesn’t matter. Refusing to give a reference in that way tells any smart reference checker that boss doesn’t like her, but also doesn’t want to say bad things.

        2. Betty*

          What?? Seriously?! I absolutely agree that she is failing at some (usually unspoken) really important parts of being an employee and it’s definitely something you can (and should) takes up with her – requiring her to comply or face serious consequences.

        3. Batgirl*

          As a teacher myself, this is exactly why I would struggle to deal with it.
          When you’re good at dealing with, and coaching an immature mindset, you may give them more support and help than is strictly necessary for an adult to receive.

          It’s one thing to give a child time to realise that silent treatments don’t work on you, or to accept that there is a growth period to not to pull others down to bolster your own self esteem.

          But thus is an adult who needs a baseline level of maturity to do her job. I would have to resist the urge to nurture better behaviours, because what she needs to know is that her job is in imminent danger. The silent treatment is grossly insubordinate and her co-workers don’t deserve to put up with her primary school behaviour. She needs to realise she’s on the verge of being fired.

          She had her chance to grow up in school, so she needs to know the time is nigh.

        4. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

          Wow- Jane sounds like a handful. I’m not surprised you aren’t planning on renewing her contract.

    3. JSPA*

      “Regardless of motivation, you can’t go through a coworkers unlocked desk drawer, you can’t check out their car or their house if the door is unlocked, and you must stop clicking into their work. You’re mistaking access for acceptability. They are two different things. This has to stop now.”

      1. Op #3*

        It’s funny that you say this, because Jane was at my house once (she was in my country of residence on vacation, so she stopped by to say hello) and she fully went through my home office desk “looking for Post-Its.”

        Even if there was a reason for some random chick to be digging through my drawer for Post-Its, there were three neon packs on TOP of the desk…yeesh.

        1. JSPA*

          Oh….dear. Well, even if all of it is news to her, as opposed to context, she has to hear it sometime?

        2. Observer*

          OK, so the problem of her trying to monitor her coworkers really IS part of a much bigger problem. And it also means that you HAVE to tell her that she NEEDS to stop monitoring other people’s work, not just that she “can”. And, as Allison says, keep a VERY close eye on her – she’s clearly seriously boundary challenged.

    4. Roy G. Biv*

      “Self-Appointed Hall Monitor” — LOL! So many people aspired to be hall monitors in high school and were never appointed to the post, and have now made it their life’s mission to monitor the workplace, the neighborhood, the comings and goings of family members. Hall Monitor Jane makes the little troll me in want to begin doing really weird, or at least puzzling, things, just to see how she reacts.

    1. Julia*

      Or online support groups! They are out there, whether on reddit (not all forums are toxic, some have moderators) or other communities that are more specific to your concern/location.

    2. ten-four*

      Shoot, my usual therapists (for me and other family members) have all switched to online, with secure video chats. So you’ve got a lot of options here! There’s also “listening” hotlines in lots of places – so not a therapist but people with some light training who can be a listening ear. I do have one or two work friends that I share the really upsetting stuff in my life with, but I make a big effort to keep those conversations rare. I’d look for ways to spread it out.

      Also: ugh, how absolutely dreadful. I’m so sorry this happened!

    3. Ama*

      If your company has an EAP, look and see what they might offer as well. Not just therapy (I believe my employer’s has both immediate, over the phone counseling, and offers to connect you with a local therapist), but some also will do research for you on legal counsel, moving services, or other local vendors you might need to use while trying to deal with this.

      I was unaware of the non-mental health part of our EAP until we had a fire in our apartment building a few years ago that required us to move on short notice and were able to use them to locate some movers and a specialist cleaning company.

    4. Cartographical*

      I was coming here to see if OP #2 had access to EAP through work. Most of those are going remote so you can have video therapy.

      This is an awful situation to be in, OP, and while it’s not always wise to lean on your colleagues for support — everyone is in it up to their necks right now — it’s probably okay to confide in some of them. Just be honest and matter of fact. “I’m having a rough time bc Fergus just left me but I’m working my way through.”

      Support doesn’t have to mean solutions or a sounding board. Sometimes it’s just knowing you’re not locked in the Breakup Room alone and no one knows you’re in there. Pretending you’re okay can be super isolating. So if your eyes are red or you’re lagging a little, sometimes it’s nice not to have to put the energy into covering up. If you clear the air at work, sometimes it can become a haven where you’re Good At Things, Part of Things, and people appreciate you when you’re feeling unappreciated and alone.

  8. A Silver Spork*

    LW2: if you’re not already close enough with coworkers to ask them for support, asking them to comfort you through your breakup is not a good idea. I still shudder when I think about the coworker who logged about twenty hours of complaints about her husband to me before I even knew his name. (And then I had to sit next to him at the holiday party and pretend I didn’t know way too much about his marriage. Awwwwwkard.) Please don’t be that coworker.

    If by leaning you mean more like “talking about stuff in general” and not venting/crying, that’s a different story, and that’s much more okay.

    I’m sorry about the breakup, hopefully things get easier soon!

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      I feel so bad for OP but omg she should absolutely not lean on coworkers for emotional support. Now or ever really.

      Like you said, general conversation…ok, but venting, crying, asking for favors vis a vis her personal life, etc., etc., etc., hard no.

      If they are not already friends, and I do mean actual friends, this is too much to ask of people one knows only by happenstance because they work together.

    2. Washi*

      Yeah, there wasn’t a lot of detail in the letter about what kind of emotional support the OP would want…a long tearful venting session is out, but I do think there’s some room to connect with coworkers in other ways.

      If you have a favorite coworking you’ve been IMing back and forth with, maybe float the idea of a phone call. If you have company Slack and you know animal pictures cheer you up (or some other common thing) maybe start a slack channel for that. I think if you change your goal from “get emotional support for my breakup” to “find ways to create friendly interactions with coworkers” you’ll be much more successful.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        That’s a good point. You don’t want your first non-work interaction with someone to be “please let me lean on you.” You need some baseline first.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        I am not friends with any coworkers, but am friendly enough with a couple of them that especially now, if one of them asked how I was doing, and the answer was terrible, I would tell them. So I can see it. I’ve definitely been sympathetic already to a couple of people with small kids at home! Which I hope they are counting among their emotional support resources….

        1. WellRed*

          I think a benefit of this approach is, while they may not be able to provide the support a friend would, they’d be wiling to be patient if you flubbed a few things or needed to day or two off. Speaking of which, OP, if you haven’t done so, can you take a day or two to just wallow?

          1. Avasarala*

            Yes, it’s one thing to say “I’m going through something right now, do you have any cute cat videos??” and another to cry on their shoulder.

            OP, I recommend you start reaching out gentle feelers now for new friendships and communities so you have people to lean on in crises! It’s very common for people fresh out of relationships to start experimenting and being social in new ways!

      3. Koala dreams*

        Yes, and I think it’s a lot of value in those low-key social interactions. In these unsure times, maybe you’re co-workers will also appreciate the distraction. It could be sharing funny pictures, asking for and giving tips on where to order food or get new furniture, and other small talk.

    1. frogsandturtles*

      LW2: Also wanted to say I’m sorry you’re going through this right now. I am going through something similar — including finding out he was already dating someone else — and it sucks. Wishing you peace and healing also.

  9. Audrey Puffins*

    LW1: use the current state of things to your advantage, just shout “Bob, stop touching your face, we’re not meant to touch our faces!” every time a hand goes up. He’ll get it, and your message will be cloaked in concern rather than (or at least in addition to) judgement.

    1. JSPA*

      If he’s WFH, sequestered and doesn’t have a contamination risk inside his place, this is going to sound ridiculous and miss the mark. The point of not touching your face is not contaminating your face. If there are no contaminants — if your hands are clean — there’s no benefit. It’s a contamination route, not a warding charm.

      1. Thankful for AAM*

        I think it is a good “fave-saving” option (see what I did there!), but they tried telling him and he had his sound off!

      1. yala*

        I mean, I don’t think it does, since it’s right up there with “wash your hands” right now–something that’s always a good idea, but is particularly important during this health crisis.

        But also…dude picked his nose and ate it on camera. imma be a little judgy…

          1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

            Nah, own it like Bob owned that booger. Imma be right here judgey with you. Seriously, who does this past age 5?

              1. 'Tis Me*

                I think an apt response to any of these is a variant on “Have I given you any reason to think that I want or need your help with this, or that undermining my management system is something I want you to prioritise above performing your role?”

                If she argues that she isn’t doing that, ask her to explain exactly what it is that she thinks she is doing.

                If she starts crying, I would ask her “would you like to continue this conversation now, or do you need a bit of time to calm down?”

                If she says a bit of time to calm down then gives you the silent treatment after a few days I’d write her an email asking her to confirm that on calmly considering her behaviour and in light of your conversation on date and previous conversations, she now accepts that:

                * Ignoring your requests to stop trying to monitor her colleagues is undermining to you, because it is your job to do this, and she is directly ignoring your requests in continuing.
                * It is intrusive and insulting towards her team mates because it indicates that she has a better understanding of how long their work should take, the requirements affecting it, the specifics of what they are working to including any changes to this, etc, than they or you do, and she is thus to be considered an authority on how they should handle their work.
                * This behaviour is additionally taking her time and focus away from her actual contracted role as an independent contributor, evidently resulting in her not having time to complete her own tasks on schedule or to a sufficient quality.

                As a result she will cease this behaviour instantly, and focus her working time on her own assigned work, particularly working on [list of areas she is not performing well in, with examples of late deliveries, sloppy projects that needed high levels of intervention after she submitted them as finished, etc].

                If she has any problems with how you are managing her, or concerns about her workload or the standards she is being expected to meet, she is of course free to bring them up with you, but if she continues to monitor other colleagues’ Trello boards etc this will be considered a matter of insubordination and treated seriously.

                (I’d send a variant of this in any case actually so there is a clear record of the conversation and outcomes, but with an altered first paragraph to reflect how things were left.)

                If you want to soften the delivery of the message slightly without diluting it, I might close off with something like “I appreciate that this email may be quite tough to read. However, we have discussed this previously, without seeing a change, and I do need you to understand that this is a serious issue, both in itself and because it is impacting on your abilities to perform your own work. I hope you view this as it is intended: useful feedback on how to best manage your time and work successfully in a remote team.”

                Then if she does it again, I would go to a formal warning.

                Also, I think you can create a Trello board as private then share it with specific people, but I’m not 100% sure (I’ve only started to use it myself recently). But given that this would mean that if you, big boss and an individual contributor all fall ill nobody would be able to see what the individual contributor was working on, prioritising, etc, now doesn’t seem like the best time to swap over to that setup, especially when it should be resolvable by telling Jane to stop.

  10. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Lw4 I’d be worried about logistics– travel right now is getting restricted. Imagine trying to hire movers.

    1. Thankful for AAM*

      Really good point! That could be a useful part of the convo the OP has with the new employers.

    2. WellRed*

      Agreed. People are worried about things like accepting offers or giving notice, but things are weird for everyone right now and I would operate as business NOT as usual. Alison’s advice is spot on.

    3. Cloudy with sunny breaks*

      I agree. I think by next week this will be a moot point as basically everyone will be on lock down. And staying near and available to elderly parents right now is probably a good thing. On a brighter note, if a possible move is in your future now would be an excellent time to sort out that drawer (I know you have one!) cull those books and take stock of your closet. Or binge on Netflix. Whatever works.

  11. cncx*

    re OP1, i dated for several years a man who was also visually impaired, and one of the things i noticed is that he wasnt very good at picking up on visual social cues (obviously but honestly it wasn’t obvious) and he would do stuff like this. The biggest one for me was he would talk louder than he should for things that were contentious or better off said in a low tone.
    The good news is he was really responsive and receptive to verbal redirection (i did sadly have to shut down obvious nose picking early on) and Alison’s advice is what worked the best- literally be like “dude you’re picking your nose on camera” or “we can see you popping”

  12. ES*

    This may be helpful for LW 4 and LW 5, I took a new position earlier this week and gave notice at my old job. Within 24 hours my offer had disappeared and my old job walked me out of the building without paying out my notice period. I’m now unemployed with nothing more than the vague promise that the position I had applied for may be open again someday and they would hire me then. We are in an unprecedented situation, use an abundance of caution whatever you do.

    1. Risk taker*

      I’m so sorry this happened! I just gave my notice last week and accepted a new job – I’m doing everything I can to maintain good contacts and hope that the change works out, but it feels a lot more risky than I planned when I started interviewing in December!

      1. Amy Sly*

        Amen. I’m so relieved that I just heard from my new job today, and I’m still starting Monday next.

      2. ES*

        I hope it works out for you! The company I was going to start at was excited to have me and I had a firm start date, the next day they called an said they laid off half their staff nationwide. Remote work isn’t possible in my field (child care administration) and centers are closing left and right, it’s going to be a hard job hunt.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Oh god! That’s a terrible thing to have happen. And you’re right, promises are just that… promises.
      I had an interview cancel on me this week and the position put on hold. Fortunately, I’m still employed and this didn’t get too far, so no loss on my part.

      But for those job searching right now, take an abundance of caution! Job openings are being cancelled left and right among the uncertainty of the situation. If the place really wants to hire the OP, I would suggest a remote-work situation for the next 3 months (because we’re not supposed to be at work honestly, let along MOVING). But my real fear is that OP will accept the job, which the company will then cancel.

    3. OP5*

      Ugh, I’m so sorry to hear this. My new company mentioned yesterday that they’re looking at rotating people in and out of the workspace so that they can practice good social distancing (better than nothing, I guess) and also looking at potentially working from home, so I’m not worried about the offer falling through… but things are definitely scary right now.

      1. WellRed*

        I feel like rotating people in and out exposes twice as many people. If WFH is an option, what’s the hold up? This is also a point where it would have been helpful to meet in person to get a real feel for the company. OP, I can’t imagine how stressful all this is for you.

        1. OP5*

          I hadn’t thought about that, but you may have a point. It’s certainly not fun… I feel like I’m having to choose between my current company (which I’m miserable at) who is doing only the minimum recommended state and local guidelines, and a new company, which is at least looking into options on their own.
          Did I mention I’m driving an hour each way to my current job? That’s a lot of the reason for leaving. I’ve been doing that for nine years and this new job is 15 minutes away. :/

        2. TootsNYC*

          I think the idea is that you can disinfect the workplace between shifts. And having fewer people means you can stay farther apart from them.

          But rotating seems a little silly–as you point out, it doubles the number of potential germ sources.

          If some people HAVE to be in the office, they should push WFH to everyone who can actually be productive, and then have the ones who can’t WFH space out.

          1. nonegiven*

            Rotating weekly is better than daily. At least there is a whole weekend for the germs on surfaces to die.

            Also maybe they don’t have the VPN capacity for everyone to work from home all at the same time.

    4. CircleBack*

      I overheard my partner’s company’s conference call yesterday discussing new hires who were supposed to start next week. They’re planning to put off their start date another 2 weeks, which just sucks for those people who may be waiting on their new paychecks.

  13. #3 OP*

    Wow, I got my question answered! Thank you!

    In response to Alison’s question: This is actually one of my more minor complaints about Jane. She is definitely a busybody, offers quite a lot of passive-aggressive “input,” and has a habit of trying to order her coworkers around. She also consistently turns in the lowest-quality work on the team and leans heavily on my other members for basic things, as if she’s just too busy and important to do things like run her own google searches or spell-check. Thankfully, she is a fully remote worker, so she’s limited in how much she can interact with others.

    Before the pandemic shutdown, my boss and I had been working on a plan to replace her, but it seems unnecessarily cruel to do so now. (Her mental health status has us both worried, as she has breakdowns including leaving tearful voice messages or giving me the silent treatment in response to being told things like “Proofread before you turn in any work.” It’s just not sustainable, and her work is not good enough for me to keep her regardless of her attitude.) Her contract only goes until the end of May, so I guess I’m in grin-and-bear-it territory for the next little while.

    1. snowglobe*

      If there is any chance that she may think her contract will be renewed, you’d be doing her a huge favor to let her know that it likely won’t be.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Yes, please. #3 OP said upstream that “Jane” appeared to be looking around for other jobs. Making sure she understands that her contract will not be renewed would be both kind in itself and give her incentive to step up the job search.

        It will probably also trigger another week of the silent treatment, but #3 OP seems to be able to handle that.

        1. Op #3*

          I’m waiting until the crisis calms down a bit and I can be more sure of her physical safety. I know she is a heavy drinker and has serious impulse controls problems, and I don’t want to trigger unsafe behavior.

          1. Another consultant*

            It seems unlikely that the crisis will be meaningfully different in May (though I hope so) and waiting to make it clear seems like more of a disservice to her than having time to cope while she’s got a paycheck. You’re taking on too much management of her feelings and reactions, which isn’t your job.

          2. valentine*

            I don’t want to trigger unsafe behavior.
            You can’t take this on. Even if she weren’t manipulative (pouting, canceled voicemails ending in crying, listing you as a reference may merely be a threat), you could do more harm than good and it isn’t sustainable.

            What about gardening leave?

          3. JSPA*

            This is a deeply kind impulse, but also a “lane violation” of some sort / beyond pay grade / out of appropriate considerations (even if she’s she’s disclosed, asked for help etc). She’s not your (minor – age) child, you’re not her court – assigned guardian. She’s presumed to be a functional adult under law. If you want to soften the blow, there may be practical ways you can do so (some period of leave with pay during her job search, with coronavirus as the excuse, if the company can swing it?) But leaving her to become ever more worried about her situation, and then unexpectedly unemployed without adequate forewarning, would never be a kindness and it’s doubly not a kindness under coronavirus closure and economic constriction.

            Tie a short term change in behavior to getting a decent / neutral recommendation for her job search. In a world of uncertainty that’s one concrete thing that she can do to help herself and help others (as opposed to what she’s currently doing in a misguided attempt to help herself and help others).

          4. EventPlannerGal*

            It’s coming up to the end of March. This crisis isn’t going to blow over in two months, and it’s very possible things will get significantly worse. It’s also highly unlikely she will sober up, overcome her issues and transform into a person who takes bad news well in two months. I appreciate that you are trying to be kind, but the kindest thing you could do for her is give her as much time as possible to job-search, and be as supportive and kind as you can be within the limits of a coworker relationship for as long as she still works with you.

          5. Dust Bunny*

            If this is how she responds to things, she’ll just do it later. You can’t manage this for her. Warn her now so she can ramp up the job search (whether or not she actually does that is well beyond your control; the best you can do is give her the information to work with). Take JSPA’s advice on trying to improve her behavior enough to get a slightly better reference, but do give her ample forewarning.

          6. MtnLaurel*

            What a rough spot you’re in. Hang in there and know that I’m sending good thoughts your way. .

          7. AKchic*

            It’s not your job to manage Jane’s feelings, emotions or personal actions.

            What she does outside of the office in regards to being notified of a work decision is 100% on her, and you and the company made the original decisions based on her choices and actions. Everything boils down to Janes choices, actions and inactions. None of it falls on you or the company. If Jane chooses to engage in risky behavior or does do something that endangers herself, that is on her, and her personal connections should step in to help her. If she reaches out to you or another work contact, they should reach out to the authorities, not hold her job to “help” her.

            There’s a lot of manipulation she’s working here, and even when it’s not actively working, it’s still subtly working.

          8. TootsNYC*

            In a way, you can minimize her reaction perhaps by blaming the non-renewal on the coronavirus pandemic. Then it’s framed as a business necessity, and it’s not about her, or the quality of her work.

          9. Observer*

            There is no way you can manage that, though. The only way you would have any chance would be by keeping her on, and you know that that is not sustainable.

            Instead of saying that you can’t give her a reference because you didn’t give her permission (which really means that you don’t WANT to), you can say that your company doesn’t allow you to do more than verify employment.

            And when you let her know that she needs to ramp up the search tell her that you won’t discuss her failings with a reference checker.

      2. staceyizme*

        Yes, this! It’s much kinder to be cruel but clear than it is to postpone the pain for the sake of less dissention.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      The fact that’s she’s remote is probably contributing to her behavior. Some people just can’t handle it. Good luck!

    3. Harper the Other One*

      OP#3, it’s very kind of you to be concerned about her mental health during these extreme circumstances; I think she does have to go eventually but you are being very compassionate about your timing. I agree with those who’ve already said to make clear her contract won’t renew.

      In the meantime, is there a way to assign her work that requires less interaction with her coworkers? If there are projects that are more solo work that you can give her, that might give you more leverage for saying “your coworkers’ information isn’t your concern” because she can’t claim she needs to know when X or Y will be done.

      1. Op #3*

        All of her work IS stuff she can do with little to no support. We’re instructional designers and she has a brief to work from with all the information, she just needs to create lesson plans and associated materials. At the beginning, people were really warm and supportive but she took advantage of it to the point where no one wants to collaborate.

        1. JSPA*

          I’m getting the sense that she’s almost entirely lacking internal yardsticks (or perhaps, an inability to generalize from one case to another).

          She’s partially unaware of that lack (the social behaviors) and partially uneasily aware (the work performance). Where she’s aware, she panic scrambles for examples / models / rubrics in far greater detail than most people would need (thus the lookey-loo behavior).

          I’ve run into this twice, and both times failed (despite fairly valiant attempts) to provide adequate guidance, enough models or detailed enough rubrics to make up for the glaring gap. I don’t know what the answer is, for the person suffering from the deficit, or if there is one. (Presumably depends on the root cause.)

          If she doesn’t have enough clarity on the overall situation to change the specific behaviors, you probably do have to focus on damage control for the rest of the team. Unless they have a deep enough wellspring of sympathy to want her there, in all her flailing, wailing glory, heading her towards the exit quickly (or at least, pulling her direct access to the server entirely, and picking up her jobs for her, and sending them to her, so she’s invisible to the team, and they to her) is really all you can do.

          If there’s an HR who could let her know about any resources for behavioral coaching (or, y’know, substance abuse support) without you making it your direct business at all, that’s also a kindness. But you’re her manager, not her therapist; getting involved in a way that suggests you think she’s got a medical issue will only make the situation potentially more legally fraught when she goes (whether that’s now or May).

      1. TootsNYC*

        You’re living it, but to a lot of us, this is entertainment, “content.”
        So thanks for providing that.

    4. Julia*

      “Before the pandemic shutdown, my boss and I had been working on a plan to replace her, but it seems unnecessarily cruel to do so now.”

      Think of it as freeing up a job for someone like ES further up who needs it and presumably doesn’t throw tantrums. I really admire your empathy, but one employee throwing tantrums can’t hold your entire office hostage, and it bothers me when she gets what she wants because she is (or performs) distressed, when others may be just as distressed by her behavior but don’t openly show it. I’ve been there, I’ve held myself together while other yelled and cried, and then went home and had nervous breakdowns where no one could see them, and it sucked.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Agreed. OP, you need to deal with this, not ride it out! I know it sucks but it sucks for her coworkers too, and you’re the only one who can fix it.

        1. staceyizme*

          Exactly! And how many coworkers are less responsive and less functional because of this bs?

    5. disconnect*

      “I guess I’m in grin-and-bear-it territory for the next little while.”

      No, you need to actively manage this situation. Don’t put off doing your job because you think the situation will resolve itself. If anything, this timeline might help you be proactive; you have less than two months to take the action you know is correct here. Jane’s future coworkers will thank you, and your direct reports will appreciate you a bit more.

      1. Op #3*

        Statements like “you need to do your job” are rarely helpful and come off as pretty immature. I hope this advice is useful to you in the future.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          It’s still the essence of the advice for which you wrote in, though. The bottom line is that Jane needs a harder message and consequences than it sounds like you’ve given her.

        2. Casper Lives*

          No, the statement is blunt, not immature. You don’t want to hear that you need to do your job here. You manage Jane. Right now, her coworkers, you, and your boss are being subjected to her inappropriate behavior in the workplace. You haven’t managed her out so her behavior is allowed to continue. Her coworkers have to put up with her behavior all the time.

          I appreciate that you’re compassionate and empathetic toward Jane. But what about her coworkers, who might have received crying voicemails or other inappropriate behavior from Jane? They see how she acts. They see that she’s still there. What about their mental health and well being?

        3. JSPA*

          Coaching comments on the internet isn’t career development either, though. When there’s a difficult situation at work, compounded by drama and instability and a split between what kindness seems to demand and what professionalism seems to demand, it’s more appealing to deal with / correct almost anything else. But Disconnect’s career development isn’t in your hands. (They may be senior to you and speaking from long and successful experience, and modeling useful directness. Or not. Who knows.) Your question really buried the lede; you’re going to get some responses that are along the lines of, ” you’re asking about how to do ice sculpture on the top of the iceberg when the whole thing is threatening to roll over.” The reason that the little thing is a big problem is because there’s an actual big problem.

        4. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Whoa, no, the comment was correct. I understand you might be feeling defensive (who wouldn’t be?) but I didn’t find the comment immature at all (and had just said something similar above).

          1. Op #3*

            No. The comment was incorrect, and carries obvious connotations that I rightfully object to, as they unfounded.

            I am doing my job. Firing people is not something I have the power to do without my boss agreeing to it.

            What I have the power to do is bring issues like this to my boss’s attention. I have done so.
            What I have the power to do is ask for a PIP. I have done so. (My boss said it “wasn’t worth it” in the short amount of time she has left with the company.)
            What I have the power to do is meet privately with her and let her know that her work is substandard. I have done so. (She did not listen.)
            What I have the power to do is to tell my boss that Jane was recalcitrant and that I wanted removed form the project. I have done so. Twice. (She wants Jane to finish out her contract.)

            I cannot control my boss’s decisions. I’m sorry that people seem to be able to do so at their workplaces, while I cannot. I think its wonderful how free you all are! I’m also sorry that I think firing her right now, at this moment, would be a disgustingly cruel thing to do.

            I am also astonished at the response, and I will stop reading from now on, since I apparently cannot stand up for myself while being told I have to stand up for myself…? Alison, thank you for the patience you initially showed me.

            1. The Other Dawn*

              But there was nothing that I could see in your original letter or your post above that mentions any of this, which is likely why people, including me, are saying you need to manager her. At this point with so little time left in her contract it doesn’t make sense to fire her, but I think she needs to be told to get herself under control, not cry about things, and not involve herself in things that are none of her business.

            2. Casper Lives*

              You explained here how you have done your job and that we were working on false assumptions (e.g. you have the power to fire, put Janes on a PIP). I understand your position better – you’re in a frustrating spot because you’re a manager whose boss isn’t allowing her to actually manage Jane. You have no power to enforce consequences on Jane for her behavior. Jane has rightfully concluded there won’t be any immediate consequences for her behavior. (I consider not renewing her contract to not be an immediate consequence.)

              What I don’t see is how the original comment indicated “immaturity.” Your response read as defensive and condescending.

            3. emmelemm*

              OK, but given this information, what advice could Alison or the commenters possibly give?

              You’ve tried all of these avenues. You don’t have the power to fire her. She *will* be with you for 2 more months. After that, she’ll be gone. What possible advice is left other than grit your teeth and wait it out?

            4. EventPlannerGal*

              In case you do continue to read: I think most people haven’t said that you should fire her immediately but rather that you should make sure she is aware that her contract will not be renewed in May. It sounds from your comments upthread like she doesn’t intend to stay on anyway, but if you are truly concerned with avoiding cruelty then to me that would be the right thing to do.

              As for the rest of this, none of this information about being unable to fire/discipline/PIP her, lack of support from your management, your desire to avoid triggering harmful behaviours etc was in your letter. I get that many people write in about small issues that turn out to be the last straw on much bigger problems, but people are going to comment based on the information provided. Behaviours like leaving multiple crying voicemails over minor corrections are so egregious that, without that very important context, it’s very difficult to see why it’s been allowed to continue.

            5. Observer*

              Ok, then the comment should be that you BOSS needs to do her job. But the bottom line is that at some point, not managing her out IS a failure to do the job of managing.

              Also, you can’t expect people to know that you do not have the power to fire someone if you don’t tell them. It really did sound like you had the ability to make that happen, even though I understand that that’s not what you meant.

            6. JSPA*

              That’s yet more missing context (though of course it could have been edited out). “Despite repeated attempts, I have no standing to make substantive change, so even if this strikes you as an exercise in rearranging deck chairs on the titanic, is there something I should be doing to keep her out of other people’s work” would have been really helpful context.

        5. Employee of the Bearimy*

          I’m with you, OP #3. Nobody comes on a site like this because they’re trying not to do their job. Comments like that are just about the commenter trying to get in a dig at the OP rather than being actually helpful.

        6. MCMonkeyBean*

          Their comment was appropriate and constructive. This response is oddly defensive and passive aggressive.

      2. The Other Dawn*

        I agree with Disconnect. Just because the contract is coming to an end in a couple months is no reason not to manage her the way you would other people. Maybe you wouldn’t necessarily put her on a PIP, but she absolutely needs to be told to cut this stuff out.

    6. Koala dreams*

      It’s not doing her any favours to not give her feedback because you suspect she has mental health issues. On the contrary, it’s putting her in a worse situation. It’s also unkind to her co-workers, who are impacted by her unprofessional behaviour. Please rethink this.

    7. Wintermute*

      IT may seem cruel to replace her now– but think of how cruel it is to force everyone else to put up with an undermining, micro-managing poor performer: in terms of their own workload, peace of mind, etc. You have no idea what the magnifying glass she’s turning onto her coworkers is doing to THEIR anxiety levels, feelings of security, and other important mental health considerations.

      They deserve your compassion more than someone who is mistreating them.

  14. anonymous 5*

    LW#2, as someone who has been on both sides of a situation like this, *please* don’t turn to your coworkers for venting/therapy.

    What really helped me when I was the one going through the breakup was to view my colleagues as people with whom I was something way more (and way different) from my romantic relationship. I didn’t keep them completely in the dark, mind you. But I basically stuck to bare-bones facts. As I progressed through grieving the relationship, it was an absolute gift to be able to have work giving me a sense of perspective: at the point of the breakup, it felt as though *everything* was falling apart and that every part of my life was sortof equally affected by my no longer being in a relationship. Having parts of my life where I couldn’t “make everything about the breakup” (to be crass) made it much easier to realize that I was still my good, capable self; and to give the emotional attention to the places where it could do the most good.

    I hope that something similar will be true for you. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Lots of internet hugs if you want them.

    1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

      Having parts of my life where I couldn’t “make everything about the breakup” (to be crass) made it much easier to realize that I was still my good, capable self

      Wholeheartedly agree. Quarantine your work self as much as you can. Through 2 major breakups, work helped me retain my sense of self and get through.

      Sending you an internet kitty head boomp xx

  15. Roslin*

    LW 1, we are having twice daily check in meetings in a culture that previously had no virtual meetings at all. One senior manager insists on being in bed and sometimes adjusts clothing and position resulting in awkward video. I mean, it’s great when her dog makes an appearance…but the bed thing is weird. Everyone else on the call is obviously stifling laughter. I had to get up once to avoid bursting into laughter. I doubt anyone will say anything because it is providing levity and she is quite good at her job and providing excellent leadership. If she shows up at a normal desk, I will wonder if the boss told her to get out of bed.

    1. Thankful for AAM*

      OMG! They know they are on camera, right?
      We need a thread on virtual meetings, video meetings!
      Spouse is a prof and is learning just how little other profs know about basic computer functions nevermind how to teach online.

      1. JSPA*

        Just yesterday overheard STEM PhD spouse being coached remotely on how to share an image / document on the screen. Despite years of videoconferencing.

    2. Ray Gillette*

      I’ll confess to having taken a few calls from bed, but I’m still dressed in work clothes from the waist up so that I look normal on camera.

    3. CG*

      Give her the benefit of the doubt, especially considering that virtual meetings are new for you all. I’m mostly working from a desk at home right now, but my bed is the only place in my apartment that I can get a reliable video connection. Everyone’s having to adjust right now, often in situations that aren’t ideal.

  16. Batgirl*

    OP2, I’ve been in your shoes and while losing the couples-friends is really scary, they weren’t really MY friends and it was the best clearing of the decks ever for me.
    It made room for better things.
    I did end up getting support from colleagues, so it is possible, but I don’t think it is something you can ask for. In my situation, I had slight pre-existing social relationships with them, albeit not that close, and when I let people know I wasn’t exactly on my game they came forward with that support of their own volition.
    Also, don’t count out online support. I ended up getting involved with a special interest group who were from all parts of the world. When I couldn’t sleep, there was always someone up.
    For me, I discovered that the best way to get out of your own head is by helping others. There’s lots to do out there, even if we can’t get out there, and you won’t be the only isolated person right now! Instead of finding support for you, think about who else needs it? What help and cheer can you spread?
    These are the things which helped me but sometimes you just want to moan about how much it all sucks. If you’re interested in venting, I’d like to know how your week went on the weekend thread if you are around.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Echoing, please drop us a post and let us know how you are doing on the weekend open threads.

      You know finding that first thing to help change our situation is super hard. Subsequent ideas come easier.
      Folks have mentioned online therapy. I did some of my life coaching sessions by phone, it was enough to know that someone was following my story and keeping up with all the new stuff coming at me. Sometimes we just need that one cornerstone type person or anchoring type person, to sort through things with us.

      I do believe you can get “little helps” from your cohorts with specific things. The key here is to NOT keep asking the same person and to use a light conversational tone. “Hey, have you found eggs anywhere? I am out and I tried a couple places with no luck. Having any luck?” Another strategy to use is when people offer you something, vow to say yes more often. Typically, we default to NO. For the time being make a deliberate effort to say yes more often. You can pay it back or pay it forward later, I am sure you will.

      Definitely keep an underlying rule in place, don’t ask people whose opinions you do not respect. Don’t say yes to help from people who are known to be unreliable. Be strategic all the way. And never underestimate the power of little helps.

      When my husband passed and winter came, I had difficulty with my tractor when I tried to plow the driveway. There was more than a few times that I had all I could do to get it started and do the blacktopped areas. What happened next touched my heart. My neighbor saw I was not doing my dog’s run. My dog was older and not as surefooted as he used to be, he was also less bold as most dogs are when they age. Getting outside to do his thing was a bigger deal. My neighbor came over and plowed out a path and an area for the dog to use. This is such a little thing considering the life issues that I had going on, but my heart cried tears of joy. My older dog could comfortably get himself outside and go potty. I did not have to worry about him trying to walk around out there and I did not have to go out and “break trail” for him in the snow either. It was a little gesture with big thinking behind it. Decide to let yourself relish these small things.

      1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

        Shut up everyone it’s just my coronavirus!

    2. SebbyGrrl*

      There are at least 2 of us.

      The good news here is because of it I was “Sheltering in Place” 6 days before everyone else.

      I’ve posted this on Carolyn Hax some mental health stuff/coherent/Sensible voices that is helping – you don’t have to leave the house or even spend $

      Podcasts – you don’t have to leave your bed, room or home. Mostly free and hearing people so genuinely discuss life’s ups and DOWNS is a thing that happens to humans because we are humans – it is a known feature of being alive – life is a struggle for alllll lllloooot of people for a variety of reasons.

      The Hilarious World of Depression

      The Mental Illness Happy Hour

      Tremendous Upside

      Marc Maron WTF (my go to group therapy)

      And the one that started me on a path to Team Me, getting that I am ill, but I am a deserving human like anyone/everyone else – if you are not a female it might feel too feminist (but it’s not) and doesn’t sound like any thing to do with mental health My Favorite Murder.

      Both hosts have dealt with/are dealing with anxiety, insomnia, depression, addiction, eating disorders, divorce, Alzheimers in family…these women drowned out the voices intruding in my head and helped me begin to replace fear and sadness and isolation with camaraderie, acceptance, community and most of all SANE CONVERSATIONS about dealing with our struggles.

      Humorously Ali Brosh’s Hyberpole and a Half (Website/blog and book) and also The Oatmeal..

      Another blog/column similar to this and who I know Alison has recommended Captain Awkward.

      There is an other shore to this. I’m sorry you are in the moment that you are – but here is stuff for free, low introductory risk and to some degree you can sort through and CHOOSE the pieces that feel better for you. There is community and people who GET THIS. Starting to not feel other is one of the best feelings I found.

  17. Sled dog mana*

    For lw5 I’m assuming you are in the US, with so many states waiving a waiting period for unemployment you should check your local rules. If you’d qualify for being walked out and could get by on what you’d get give the two weeks notice and collect unemployment between jobs, use the time to get rested up and make sure you’re healthy.

    1. Captain Raymond Holt*

      I’d also suggest LW #5 wait. If they get laid off they may also get severance, which they wouldn’t get if they put in their notice. I’d tell the new employer that they’re waiting on a lay-off for potential severance and keep them posted.

      1. OP5*

        I’m in a bit of a strange situation because my state did waive the one-week waiting period for unemployment… but it’s a pittance compared to my salary.
        The other thing is that my company is actually shutting down for a week next week (unpaid), so I’m already looking at collecting unemployment for that. But they definitely wouldn’t give me severance, so I think I’m going to take my week off next week, put in my notice the week we come back, and see what happens.

        1. Kes*

          I mean, it’s probably worth checking in with your new company on the earliest date they could have you start. If it’s next week or the week after, it might be worth giving notice now – best case, you start next week and actually lose less income than you would otherwise.
          If it’s longer than that, depends how long the new company is willing to wait – depending on their context there may be a good chance they’re fine with a two week window where you either start at the beginning or the end depending on what happens

          1. OP5*

            That’s true, and I think they would be happy if I could start next week, but I want them to know that I’m wanting to leave on good terms, even if my notice period is later reduced. That way, it works out well for them because I’d start earlier than planned anyway.

            1. Sled dog mana*

              Could you do whatever onboarding next week with new company and then be actually ready to start after next week

              1. OP5*

                It’s possible! Depends on the new company; many places in my area are either shut down or considering it, but it’s something I can inquire about.
                Thanks very much for your perspective.

  18. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

    OP4: Maybe I’m reading in a bit, but I’m not picking up much genuine enthusiasm in your letter about this new job? All the positives you’ve laid out come with notable qualifiers, and the downsides seem significant. And not in that clinical pro/con way people do when they’re genuinely torn; in the subjective way people do when they already know the answer.

    It sounds like you want to give this opportunity a closer look than usual because you’re really just not feeling well suited at all in your current role. But maybe deep down you also know this new role is not quite right for you too?

    I may be way off, but just know that you don’t *have* to jump on the first reasonable alternative that presents itself. It’s totally ok to pass on it just because your gut says “meh”. Other opportunities will come along and there’s nothing wrong with consciously deciding to stick it out in your current role till you find the one worth going for.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      Had to reread the letter but I sort of see what you mean…I’m not sure I’d say OP isn’t enthusiastic about the role. I get the feeling this is something she really wants but because of what is going on right now things haven’t fallen into place the way she had hoped (meet the team, OP and their partner having the opportunity to check out the new city, etc…). I think OP is more afraid of jumping in semi-blind than a lack of enthusiasm for the actual role and opportunity.

      1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

        It sounds like the move is the major issue, rather than the role or opportunity per se. Sorry, in my head I just rolled that up into the one shawarma!

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Well, anyone would have some pause right now taking any new job. But if you cannot go and visit the city you’d be moving to, I would honestly lean on the ‘not doing it side’ right now.

  19. CupcakeCounter*

    Talk to the company when the offer comes in. Ask them what they are doing in the current situation and what that would mean for you in regards to your start date. I’m trying to find out if a person we hired for a high level role actually started this past Monday or if that had been delayed. Its possible they will either hold your offer until they have a better idea of the environment or extend the offer with a start date TBD after the pandemic is over.

  20. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    OP2 – I agree with Alison. Unless you have a close relationship with any of your colleagues already, don’t lean on them. You say your friends are across the country – well based on the current situation, everyone’s friend’s may as well be across the country. One of mine setup a Zoom happy hour for tonight. Reach out and lean on them. And I’m not sure if it’s an option for you, but shelters are encouraging people to foster animals while they’re home for an extended period of time. If you don’t already have one, pets can be a great source of comfort.

  21. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    Aaaaaand that’s why I’m thankful my company banned video in conference calls. No video, only audio.
    (Also, saving bandwidth)

      1. Eponymous*

        My horror the other morning when I joined the all-company meeting from bed in my PJs and realized that I hadn’t put a sticky note over the camera on my new computer. Thankfully the conferencing software we use don’t allow for participant video. But there’s no better way to wake yourself up than a wave of fear- and embarrassment-based adrenaline!

      2. JustaTech*

        One of the random pieces of swag that got handed out during open enrollment at my office were these little stick-on sliding camera covers for your laptop. So you can have your camera covered whenever you want, but if you do decide to use it, you don’t have sticky goo all over the lens.

    1. Kes*

      Eh, particularly in a time of social isolation I think there can be benefits to video at times. Yes, it will take some adjustment to video call etiquette. Tbh though, lots of people already struggle with voice conferencing etiquette (“Jack, can you go on mute please”) and it hasn’t stopped anyone using those given their usefulness.

      1. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

        I know, but since now there are +3000 people using Skype at the same time, every bit (pun intended) counts. No one wants the servers to collapse.

    2. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

      My grandboss mandated the use of video on our conference calls so that we could “stay connected.” I ripped off the metaphorical and literal BandAid from my camera last Friday, but still maintain that World Series Championship t-shirts constitute professional attire right now.

      1. A Silver Spork*

        World Series Championship t-shirts wouldn’t be the weirdest/most casual thing I’ve seen at my workplace! :) Granted, I’m an R&D scientist, and everyone knows better than to ask us to wear suits to work.

  22. waldo*

    OP4 – I’m in the same situation. Have been planning a move to the west coast from the midwest for about a year, but haven’t visited yet to make sure I would like living there – was planning to go next week (previously visited my other choice for the move and didn’t like it). I have a 2nd interview scheduled in 2 weeks remotely for a job I really want and sounds like they want me, but who knows what’s going to happen at this point. In 2 weeks when the interview happens (if it happens) things might have changed a lot, so I’m just going to wait and see for now. Even if the job is still there, the housing market might collapse and I can’t sell my place. So I feel you on how stressful such a big decision is!

  23. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP#4 — Two things about your letter give me pause: 1) you haven’t actually met these people or visited the new city; 2) you live near your elderly parents.

    1) You say that, over the phone, this sounds like a job that’s a good fit with good people. But you haven’t actually met anyone there. You also said you haven’t been in the their city for 15 years. Frankly, unless my current job was a flaming toxic waste dump, and I was prepared to gnaw off my own foot to get out, I wouldn’t do it without a site visit.

    2) You live near your elderly parents. Leaving them would always be tough, but given present circumstances, it could be a heart-breaker. I once had an employee who had to take off suddenly to make a 12-hour drive in winter to get to her dying father. I authorized the leave, told her to do whatever she had to do, but it was tough on her and on us.

    You, obviously, have more information than you could put in your post, so I’m sure there are other factors here that would affect your decision. Myself, I’d probably give the job a pass, hunker down, and try again in a couple of years. But that’s just me, and your mileage will, inevitably, vary.

    Best of luck to you. You’re in a tough place.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Gotta admit, those were my first thoughts too. And the financial situation may not work out well at all – if the new area has a lower CoL *other* than the housing market… how much more will it cost to actually live there? How much will you spend coming back to see/help your parents?

      1. EddieSherbert*

        It’s also worth noting that the market being what it is right now… that really doesn’t mean anything!

        Unfortunately my partner and I are in a similar situation – only we accepted the new job about a month ago – and we literally were told this morning by our lender that the estimates we get today won’t mean jack tomorrow or next week or whenever we put an offer in to buy a house.

      2. Starbuck*

        “the cost of living is a little lower, other than a roaring housing market.”

        Yeah that raised my eyebrows because housing is usually most people’s biggest expense, sometimes by quite a lot. But presumably OP has done the math themselves; though even if they have – who knows what it will mean in a month or two, unfortunately.

  24. Falling Diphthong*

    #3: Remonstrations about how she’s just trying to help (with what?).

    Calvin Trillin wrote a piece called something like “Bob is deeply concerned” for that person in the office who is always telling you about The Bad Situation somewhere. In the belief that by being Deeply Concerned about The Bad Situation he is addressing it. Employee probably feels like if she has her Finger On The Pulse Of The Office that makes her look engaged and on top of her work, even if it’s more like lurking at the water cooler trying to surreptitiously grab people’s wrists, or reading alarmist articles about pulses when her job is to paint teapots.

  25. Always Thinking*

    OP #4: I have a friend who accepted a new position two weeks ago (before things got bad) with a start date of May. She’s finding her realtor for the sale of her home in her current city is recommending she wait to list it as he’s having difficulty with clients getting loans approved, getting closing documents prepared, etc. Apparently stuff like that is getting really held up at the moment. If you have a home to sell as part of this transition, you might check with a realtor in your area to see what the situation is on the ground where you are.

    1. KaciHall*

      We’re going through this now, from the buying side. On the bright side, the mortgage rate is nice and low. On the downside, I don’t know how much longer my husband will be actively working, so they might not approve the loan if it doesn’t get pushed through soon. (We can still afford it if he’s on unemployment, though the renovations we’re planning would be put on hold.)

  26. Chris*

    LW4: In normal times, a potential new employee asking to start remotely and move later might be seen as a red flag. These are not normal times.

    In the current situation I think any reasonable employer is going to be willing to have a conversation about this, especially for someone who would be making a long-distance move if they took the offer. There are even parts of the country where it may not be legally possible to move to or from right now!. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will be able to accommodate what you want, but I don’t think they’ll hold it against you if you raise the issue (and if they do you should regard it as a red flag). In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they initiate a conversation about how the logistics of moving and starting a new job would work in the current environment either before making an offer or alongside the offer.

    Best of luck!

  27. cubone*

    I tried to post this on mobile but it seemed not to work, so if there’s duplicates I’m sorry!

    LW1… I completely understand the grossness of this behaviour and you shouldn’t have to put up with seeing it all the time.

    That said, I’m pretty disappointed by all the responses to this question. Compulsive skin-picking, or dermatillomania, is a very real mental disorder and is part of a category of disorders called ‘body focused repetitive behaviours’, which also includes trichotillomania/hair pulling and yes, compulsive nose picking (rhinetillexomania). The act of ingesting the hair, skin, or uh… ‘nose candy’ is a fairly common thing that comes up as part of these disorders. Many people experience these behaviours as bad habits, for people with a BFRB, it’s compulsive to the point of having pretty severe impacts on your life. It can be a conscious act to pick or pull, but my understanding is that most people with BFRBs will almost always have some degree of subconscious pulling/picking going on.

    These disorders are incredibly stigmatizing, for some obvious reasons. Personally, I put a lot of energy, effort and years of professional therapy into making sure I’m in control of them at work. It’s immensely embarrassing and shameful. I’m not diagnosing your coworker; he may just have a bad habit, total lack of self-awareness, and/or poor hygiene practices. But I think if you reread your letter, you could also imagine why someone might not feel so comfortable self-disclosing this particular mental illness in the workplace. Right now is a stressful time for a lot of people and hearing the message “don’t touch your face!” 5x a day is a bit exhausting when you have a disorder that causes compulsive face-touching (which is not to say exempt people with BFRBs from this health advice — just know they’re spending A LOT more effort on this one than most people).

    Again, I’m not trying to diagnose nor do I think it’s a reasonable action to put up with seeing him gnawing on his boogers or going to town on a scab. But I hope this comment can maybe provide a little education and reflection. It would (and frankly, has been) devastating to me to have been called out publicly on these behaviours, especially in the workplace and I can guarantee the only “change” it would really be bringing about is bucket loads of shame for every future interaction with that coworker. People with dermatillomania/trich/related disorders are very, very familiar with the advice: “can’t you just stop?”. It’s really hard to “just stop” having a mental illness.

    So if there’s no real reason you need them on, consider asking that the team not use their webcams.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Maybe you could ask that Bob not use his webcam. Asking the whole team seems unnecessary!

      1. cubone*

        The intention of asking the whole team would be to avoid singling Bob out. The LW doesn’t have enough information about his behaviour and would be taking the risk of stigmatizing a coworker. Asking everyone to do it errs on the side of caution and respect for people with dermatillomania/trichotillomania and related mental health disorders.

        Besides, did the LW clarify if there’s any reason for the webcams to be on? Besides the idea of “it’s nice to see each other while working from home”?

        1. Casper Lives*

          I’m going to push back on this a bit. Social isolation hasn’t been good for my mental health. Seeing people on camera makes it easier to see who’s talking in the meeting, keeps better engagement, and reminds everyone that their coworkers are there.

          Bob would be singled out. He’s the only one displaying this inappropriate behavior. I’d imagine it’s more stigmatizing for his coworkers to see him and think his behavior is disgusting.

          I’m not unsympathetic! I’ve got my own MH struggles. But sometimes the behavior has to be addressed regardless of the cause.

        2. Arts Akimbo*

          If we’re talking disorders, it’s easier for those of us with auditory processing disorders to understand people if we can see their faces.

      1. cubone*

        Thank you for sharing – I find many of these other comments pretty upsetting and judgmental, so I’m tapping out on this post. It’s unfortunate that people read this as “put up with Bob’s ‘disgusting behaviour'”, instead of “could we be more thoughtful about how it could impact someone who MIGHT have this disorder to be called ‘disgusting’.”

        I’m so sorry it’s been extra hard for you with isolation – I hope you can be compassionate with yourself, it’s really hard with everything going on! I’ve heard a lot of online support groups are still running on Facebook and elsewhere, so I hope you can still get support. Hang in there <3

        (I'm also really hopeful Allison sees this post… I think if there's a link it gets auto-flagged so I'm adding a helpful resource for people with body-focused repetitive behaviours: Allison, very sympathetic to the complexity of this issue, the perception of hygiene/disgust, and the lack of awareness around BFRBs, but I hope maybe in the future if this issue comes up, people could be encouraged to be less judgmental. Things like disgusting/gross/recommendations to call Bob out publicly just don't seem in the spirit of your site, which I always find empathetic, thoughtful and honest. Maybe I'm really off here. It's a really challenging issue and I'm not trying to suggest people should ignore nose-picking and eating on a conference call. There's just a lack of empathy and awareness in the comments I find really unfortunate.)

        1. KoiFeeder*

          No facebook for me, alas, so I might have to sneak into a forum or something instead. Right now the usual spots look like raw hamburger so I just wrapped ’em up in gauze and I’m hoping that I can keep myself from going back and picking at them more if I don’t look at them.

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      Possibly a change it would bring about is Bob not going on video. That would also be fine.
      If it is a mental health disorder, it’s still on Bob to not subject his coworkers to it, just as someone with ADHD or depression has to figure out how to minimize the impact of their struggle on their coworkers.

    3. emmelemm*

      If that is what’s going on, and I have a lot of sympathy because I have a light/moderate case of trichotillomania, he still needs to shut off *his* webcam because I’m sure it is very distracting.

      But yeah, if you do have one of these disorders, it is completely subconscious and you cannot “just stop”. Even with medication and extensive therapy and coaching, it’s incredibly difficult to stop.

    4. Margaery Moth*

      Yup, this is the first thing I thought of and it gave me a moment of shame because I know people have seen me pick my face. I basically grew up to a chorus of “NO PICKING.” Now I play with my hair instead which isn’t too much better but hey at least it isn’t as “disgusting.” I’ve never found this blog to be very good about mental illness, however, which is a major bummer. The prevailing thought seems to be “that sucks for you but fix it for others sake.” I think the solution here might be to act like an adult and ignore his behavior…

  28. Infiniteschrutebucks*

    For LW #1, is it possible to say “Hey Bob, it’s important to avoid touching your face! That’s one of the way COVID is spread”? That way you’re not even addressing the specifics of what he’s doing while alerting him to the fact that everyone can see him on video. From there you could even add “if you want to turn off the video feature, click X”.

    1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

      Do you think Bob would really read between those lines and get the hint…?

      I mean, personally I’d be tempted to go more direct with “Hey Bob, it’s important to not touch the inside of your mouth with the same finger you just touched the inside of your nostril with. That’s how COVID is spread, because you’re no longer just breathing it, you’re eating it too.” But…. that’s just me. YMMV.

  29. Smithy*

    LW2 – while I think Alison’s advice is largely accurate, should you be in various stages of remote work/self isolation due to COVID-19, I do think the rules are a little different. My managers, peers, direct reports have all been a lot more focused on how we’re doing personally. Are our parents defying health recommendations? Are they calling us in the early hours begging us to come home? Is being confined with a partner/family/kids driving us to anxiety and impatience? And then perhaps – have we just broken up with a long term partner and adjusting to that while also being alone during a scary time.

    Should your workplace not be at such a place at this time, then maybe in a week or two this will feel more appropriate in your work culture. Or maybe not. But I do think it does provide a mild exception in the context of “I’m trying to do my best at work, but issues in my life + COVID-19 are making it even harder”.

  30. MissDisplaced*

    #1 OMG!
    I think addressing this (kindly-no need to be mean) in the moment works best. “Whoa, Bob, whatever you’re doing? It looks really strange on camera, or you might want to turn off your webcam.” I’ve had this happen with the audio part, someone was heavy-breathing and a person just called it out like that: “Hey Fergus what’s with the noise? You might want to mute your audio buddy.”

  31. Mulva*

    LW4, It’s worth asking to defer a start! I was offered a position in a new city requiring me to relocate when I was 8 months pregnant. They wanted an early August start date and I countered with early December and it was no problem. Won’t always be an option (this was a new position so I figured they’d already waited this long), but worth asking about.

  32. Avalon Angel*

    I’d strongly recommend the LW with the recent breakup reach out to online support groups. A quick Google search will help, and you can get support from people who know exactly what you are going through. Good luck, LW!

  33. Anon for now*

    I have no advice, but can relate so much to OP#2.

    My spouse and I just separated and I’m about to move for a new job in a city that I haven’t even visited in 20 years. And then all of this other stuff going on now too.

  34. Cats4Gold*

    LW2, I’m so sorry, that sounds incredibly hard.

    As others have suggested, there’s a number of online communities. I recommend the subreddit r/momforaminute, personally- people can post about what they’re going through, and get sympathetic “internet parent” support. I’m sorry you’re going through this, and I hope that things look up for you.

  35. Glitter Spuds*

    A+ A+ A+ -You’ve phrased this better than I could have. Thank you!

    I want to echo cubone: As someone who also has dermatillomania, LW1 situation is one of my nightmares. I’m working with a therapist to redirect my compulsions and OCD behaviors (discovering the world of slime as a 3o-something has been SO HELPFUL – it keeps my hands busy and is similarly “rewarding” to my picking) but I would be MORTIFIED if someone called me out publicly. I *know* I’m not supposed to touch my face. (Especially now!) I *know* I’m not supposed to pick. I am trying – but it’s **hard,** and my impulses are also driven by anxiety.

    In high school, I put sticky notes over all the pictures in my science textbooks that made me feel squeamish. This helped me cope with reading the material and let me focus on learning, instead of letting my thoughts spiral out of control. (Please just let me read about how scientists learn about the brain, and how they can do so with the patient under general anesthesia. Don’t show me. I don’t need to see pictures of a person’s brain, in their head.) Depending on how the video screens of your team members are set up to display on your computer, you could put a sticky note over him… But, if the video aspect could be discontinued, that’d be the easiest route.

    If you really need to say something, communicate one-on-one with your colleague. (Either private message, in person, or email.) My friends/family who I’ve told about my picking know to ask me if I need a tissue if they see me messing with my face. This helps raise my self awareness about my compulsions and is a generic enough question that isn’t going to grab the ears of people who might be around.

    TL;DR Picking is gross. Yes. Very yes. No one is arguing that point. LW1 feelings are valid. It’s also important to know there could be more at play with LW1’s colleague – like dermatillomania. Be kind. OCD behaviors can be bonkers and frustrating. Publicly calling out picking behaviors could be very embarrassing for that person. (Especially if mental illness could be a factor.) If you *must* say something, do so in a private medium, where you can show empathy and respect.

    1. Glitter Spuds*

      Nesting fail. :-( I meant for this to be under cubone’s “March 20, 2020 at 9:02 am” comment, where they specifically talk about dermatillomania.

      I’m sorry!

      1. Anono-me*

        I kind of like that it’s a standalone comment. You shared some very useful and thought provoking information.

        Thank you.

    2. cubone*

      Thank you! I didn’t see this, but it’s so thoughtful and I’m so glad other people understand why I think this is important to raise. I identified so much with what you said, especially about “I know” – WE KNOW. We definitely, definitely know.

      Wishing you lots of strength and support in therapy and beyond! Self-compassion resources (if you google the term, there’s one main site) have been helpful to me. Much like your slime … LEGO has helped a ton for occupying my hands :D

  36. TootsNYC*

    3. Employee is monitoring other people’s work
    I would also be focusing on what she SAYS.

    It’s sort of like eavesdropping–everyone hears stuff, but it is rude to even indicate that you heard.

    So that would be my first line of attack–directly saying, “You are not to comment. It is distracting to everyone. And it wastes your time and your focus.”

    But then I’d go here: “When you spend your time looking at other people’s Trello and commenting on it, it makes me concerned that you are not using your time wisely, and that your attention is not on your job.”

    Then every SINGLE time she commented, I’d be on her. Privately.

    And then I’d be saying, “Because you are not following my directions, you are wasting my time. This is now getting serious.”

  37. TootsNYC*

    5. How much notice should I give when I don’t know if I’ll be asked to leave immediately or not?

    If your company is about to begin layoffs, what if you went to them and said, “Listen, I’d be willing to take a layoff. I have some things I want to do, and some savings.”

    1. OP5*

      Hi there! I think maybe I wasn’t clear; by layoff I mean a mandatory one week layoff due to the coronavirus. I’m already not getting paid for it, but we’re planning on coming back in a week, so it’s not the same as a permanent layoff.

      1. TootsNYC*

        ah, well then, never mind! I was hoping you could have the best of both worlds–a severance package AND a new job.

  38. Allison*

    Guys, I have a confession to make. I am a habitual face toucher/picker. I try to avoid the really gross, obvious stuff on video calls, and I am aware that my habits can make people uncomfortable hence why I try to control myself, but if I were ever doing something that bothered people, maybe something I didn’t realize I was doing or just assumed no one would notice, I’d like to think someone, a peer or manager, would just Slack me a quick “hey, quit touching your face!” before it got to be such a big issue that someone needed to write AAM about it. But I also get not feel comfortable sending that message to someone senior to you.

    1. Glitter Spuds*

      I didn’t know that face picking/picking in general was “A THING” until I had listed to a podcast episode that covered the Mutter Museum. Prior to learning about dermatillomania, starting therapy and actively working on my own OCD picking behaviors, I would have had a similar reaction! “Ew that’s **gross.** He picked his nose and ATE IT?!” etc with all the interrobangs. (Despite being a face picker myself. There would have been NO connection.)

      I’m doing my best to give LW1 the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they didn’t know there could be more to their coworker than just face/nose picking. Sometimes education can build empathy, and LW1 asked for help! I’m glad they felt comfortable to ask a community like AAM.

  39. RedinSC*

    LW2, I’m so sorry, what a blow. I hope you’re doing OK. BUT if your employer has an EAP in place, reach out to that. Everyone is already stressed right now, so the EAP can be a really great way to connect to someone who can help you. You take care of yourself. *hugs*

  40. Ashton*

    For #1 –
    Alison I love reading your site (I’ve learned a ton!) and you’re usually right on the money. However I was really sad to see this response and I hope you’ll post an update. It sounds a lot like this person has the disorder dermatillomania (AKA excoriation disorder). It’s a disorder that causes someone to compulsively pick at their skin. It’s closely related to OCD and trichotillomania (hair pulling). I have lived with this disorder since I was a child and I can tell you it’s extremely hard to deal with (luckily I’m doing a bit better now). The advice you provided is very harmful if we look at it through this lens.. Shaming someone for their stigmatized disorder in front of the whole team – absolutely humiliating for them. We already live with so much shame from this disorder. I can almost guarantee that just telling the person to stop will not work – everyone with derma has heard this numerous times, hell we yell this to OURSELVES all the time but it is not that simple. It’s a compulsion. So this will not have the effect you want and will only serve to embarrass the coworker. I echo what another commenter suggested which is to privately, compassionately talk to the coworker and let them know it’s distracting and would they consider turning off their webcam unless they are able to manage it for the meeting (maybe even offer to turn yours off too so they don’t feel like the odd one out). I know it’s not pleasant to watch and I don’t blame you for being distracted or not wanting to see it. But please please approach this person with compassion and not shame.

  41. Loraflora*

    LR3-one thing to think about is that paranoia like that can be a sign of severe PTSD. Might not be the case but worth considering.

  42. Cabbagepants*

    LW4 – just in case the city is Boise, you’re going to want to visit. It has changed A LOT in 15 years.

  43. cheeky*

    I have a coworker who picks at their skin constantly, pulling on hairs, digging wounds, picking (and EATING, BARF), scabs, etc. It’s incredibly gross and distressing to see, but no amount of bringing it to their attention has changed the behavior.

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